My boys are six years apart. In the old days, almost a month ago, they went their own way. The older brother would tolerate his younger brother for only so long before the squabbling began. The irritation of the older. The hurt feelings of the younger.
The younger brother was always following just a few steps behind. Trying to stay out of the way, but wanting desperately to be a part of big brother’s world.
Suddenly, there is only them.
There is still this element of a shadow, younger brother following big brother, but instead of staying a few feet back he is right on his heels. And most of the time, big brother likes him being there.
My older son laughs more readily. All his usual anxieties have been put to rest, if not only for a short time. He can catch his breath, relax at home, no imminent activity or visit to mentally prepare for. No middle school!
While high school seniors grieve the loss of their senior year (and oh, what a loss… adults know that there will be so many more big moments, but when you’re 17 or 18… tears), my 7th grader does not mourn. Who among us wouldn’t have skipped middle school if given the option?
My teenager misses his friends desperately, but I see him making memories with his brother, with my husband and me, and I know that in the grand scheme of his life, this will register as only a blip, but the connections we are making as a family will remain forever.
I feel truly blessed to have had this time teaching my boys.
I am not trained as a teacher, and it is painfully clear after these last few weeks that that is just as well. Teaching is not my long-term calling.
But to teach my children, if even for a short time, is to get to know them in entirely new ways.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve learned that my younger son struggles so painfully with perfectionism that he is afraid to even try if a concept doesn’t come easily to him.
Perhaps his teachers have learned this. But I never would have understood as deeply as I do now, had I not stepped into that teacher role for a time.
My older son, in all his stalwart wisdom and self-reliance, tried for the first few weeks to do all his school alone. He saw that I was stressed in my new role, that perhaps I had my hands full with his younger brother. Always the protector. Always the survivor.
So imagine my surprise (and chagrin) when I received an email from his math teacher, saying he hadn’t handed in any of his assignments.
I knew he’d been down there every morning on the computer, sitting quietly, working studiously. Trying to figure it out alone.
When I asked him, the frustration poured out. I was so busy helping his brother, so stressed, so worried, so anxious… he didn’t want to bother me.
This beautiful, scary, sad, joyful experience will forever change the way I parent my children.
I have learned that my older son will put his own needs aside for the needs of others, even sacrificing something as important to him as his grades and school performance, his rapport with his teachers, to save me even the slightest of worry.
I now understand that I must always check in with him, ensuring that he isn’t sacrificing a part of himself for someone else, making sure he knows that healthy love doesn’t require us to sacrifice our own well-being.
And my younger son… I had no idea how scary failure was to him. I would never have known to dial up the lessons on grace and self-love. He needs to watch his parents laugh at our own mistakes, to admit when we’re wrong, and – scary sometimes even for grown-ups – to try new things and let him watch us fail.
My husband and I aren’t good at setting aside time for each other.
We have a lot of love, but we don’t show it as often as we should. We aren’t good at “dating” each other, as the relationship experts suggest. We are both very good at trucking along, taking care of our respective responsibilities. Perhaps it’s sad that it took a global pandemic to bring us back to each other’s arms, but here we are.
My dear husband, always supportive, has upped his game, drying my tears, helping me take deep breaths, talking me off the ledge of fear that sometimes grips my heart when I think of catching this dreaded virus, this disease that may cause discomfort to most, but could be deadly to me.
We talk more, about our fears, our desires, our hopes and prayers. We cross that invisible line down the middle of our king-sized bed to snuggle in our half-sleep (until he gets too hot, and I get too stiff).
We check in with each other, and ourselves, rather than check out.
We have broken out board games given at Christmas that were never played. We have shared chores that usually fell exclusively on either my husband or me. The boys eat meals they may have grumbled about before – after all, trips to the grocery store are dangerous.
We’ve put up a basketball hoop in our driveway. Every day there isn’t snow on the ground, both boys join their dad for heated games, their laughter drifting in to me watching them from the quiet warmth of our living room.
I’m taking time to read books just for fun, to watch my family play, to read more stories to my youngest and spend more time just talking with my oldest. Yesterday, he and I talked for over an hour, before he joined my husband and his brother outside to start a fire with a flint and steel.
There have been giggly driving lessons with the teenager, and tickle sessions with the younger. There have been lazy mornings crowded in mom and dad’s room before breakfast and movie nights with popcorn and ice cream.
There have been forts built in the yard, and stories read inside as the breeze blew the sheet draped above our heads. There has been howling at the moon.
Yes, there is bickering. There is the realization that mom needs an actual office, with a door. But amidst all this, there is a new fluidity to life. More patience. More grace. More talking and listening.
Above all, there is the realization that truly, all we need is already right here, under this roof.
I will forever be grateful to COVID-19 for this gift.
I owe it to those who have lost their lives, their jobs, their businesses, their sobriety, their mental health, the exhausting hours spent at work healing the sick and comforting the grieving. I must learn all I can, so that their loss is not for nothing.
I must find beauty here, in this time and place. And I do. I really, really do.
Copyright © 2020 Sara Beth Wald